Montague’s history begins with the formation of Prince Edward Island. The area around Cardigan Bay is one of the youngest on the Island, and is composed of Permian deposits, formed 280 million years ago. Many years later, humans moved into the area; first the Paleo-Indians, then the Shellfish People, and finally the Micmac tribe, who were to exist on “Abegweit” for many years before the arrival of the European.
In 1731 a company was founded in France to organize farming and fishing on Isle St. Jean. The founders planned to sell their products at Fortress Louisbourg, the Cape Breton stronghold of the Acadians, and bought 3000 acres of land. This land was located where the present day Montague and Brudenell Rivers flow into Georgetown Harbour.
Jean-Pierre Roma, one of the members of the company, went to this location and in 1732 built a town on Brudenell Point which he named Three Rivers. The group of buildings, which he constructed in the “piquet” style, included a Company House, fishermen’s quarters, a bakehouse, a storehouse, a forge and stable, and residences for the ships’ officers and crews, labourers, overseers and tradesmen. Each house had its own garden where cabbage, turnip, wheat and peas were grown. Wells were dug, and a stone jetty was built off the point. In order to make it more accessible, roads were built to connect the new community with Cardigan, Souris, St. Peter’s and the capital, Port la Joie (now known as Charlottetown).
Roma wanted to make Three Rivers the centre of a commercial and fishing empire, but he was not encouraged by his partners, who refused to give him further financial support. As a result, Roma became sole proprietor and commandant of the town, which prospered due to his strict economy. In 1738, they were expecting an abundant harvest when the land was laid waste by a plague of field mice. Roma later devoted himself to a study of the mice to prevent such disasters.
Europe was at war in 1745, and as a result, the English in North America attacked Louisbourg. On the way to the fortress a British ship stopped in Three Rivers. Roma was taken by surprise and offered no resistance, fleeing into the woods with his family while Three Rivers was looted and burned to the ground.
During Samuel Holland’s 1764-5 survey of the Island, a Lieutenant Robinson was dispatched to map the river system in detail. Montague River was named in honour of either George Brudenell, Fourth Earl of Cardigan and Duke of Montague; John Montague, Third Earl of Sandwich; or Montague Wilmot, the Governor of Nova Scotia and St. John’s Island at the time of Holland’s survey. The Three Rivers area did not see significant settlement again until a group of Scottish immigrants settled in 1803 near the old French site, re-naming it Brudenell.
During the thirteen years of Roma’s settlement, the area that we now know as Monatgue lay undisturbed. The town that we are familiar with today was known as Lot 52 and Lot 59 after Holland’s survey. Lot 59 (the south side of Montague) had not been included in the lottery as it had been previously granted to a group of men engaged in the fishery who had made improvements to the land. David Higgins, part of that group, made attempts to establish a community by building a sawmill and a gristmill and clearing thirty acres for a farm. Higgins ran into financial difficulty, though, and while procuring supplies he was captured by an American privateer. Due to the cost of his ransom, he ran out of money and had to sell his share of the land. The population of Lot 59 decreased from 32 tenants in 1774 to 15 in 1820.
Lot 52 (the north side) had been drawn by three people, all by the name of Douglas. The settlement was neglected until 1775, when it was taken over by people named Tead, Dodd, Curry and Fontenalle. They, too, did not bring out settlers (part of the requirements for ownership of lots), so the land reverted back to the Crown for dispersal.
One of the first permanent settlers in Montague Bridge was John Aitken, who arrived on Lot 59 in 1775. A 1798 census for that lot shows that other settlers by the names of Young, Clark, Keoughan and Creed had also established themselves. In 1804 Joseph Ball made a map of the village of Montague Bridge (as it was then known): there was a wharf on the south side, a bridge and road to Charlottetown, a road to Wightman’s Point, three lots of land owned by a Dewar and two different MacDonalds, thirteen lots owned by Patrick Stephens and land owned by John Lemon.
In the 1820s over 800 settlers came into the Three Rivers area, although some of the areas around Montague, including Lots 51 and 52, were slow to colonize. Andrew MacDonald owned land in Lot 52, and in 1806 brought fifty settlers in, eventually attracting more through Royal Gazette advertisements. He gave the newcomers the choice of purchasing land outright or buying a long-term lease. Much of the settlement occurred in Lots 59 and 53. Conditions were often very different from what the settlers had expected when they left their homelands. Much of the area was deep wilderness, and many of the inhabitants had developed very rough appearances. There were very few close neighbours and little exposure to the church.
In 1832, another survey added the names Lambert, Beers, Clay, Annear, Collins, O’Halloran, Watson, Rourke, Lannon and MacDiarmid to the list of inhabitants. By 1840 there were at least four small clearings settled on the south side in Lot 59. At the same time, there were a few settlers in Lot 52, and a rough bridge was built to link both sides. It was made from logs and whatever was at hand, and eventually fell into disrepair and was replaced by a stronger wooden structure. The decision to build a bridge is the reason for Montague’s existence today. The inhabitants were given twenty pounds by the Commission on Roads and Bridges and were required to build the bridge themselves.
The first church in Montague was built in 1851 where the present Presbyterian church stands. The Bible Christian Church was the first to establish a following in the town, and the home of Philip Beers was used for services before the other structure was built. Reverend Francis Metherell acted as a missionary and a preacher. He also served Georgetown, Vernon River, and the Three Rivers settlement, and had to divide his time between these places. As a result, lay preachers became an important part of the early church.
Montague Road first appeared on maps in 1851, showing the growing importance of the town. It connected Montague Bridge with Brudenell Bridge and linked Lower Montague with the Georgetown Road, an important route to Charlottetown. This helped to increase the exportation of farm products and logging material. Mills became very important, with three being established in the area. A sawmill owned by Philip Beers operated on Brown’s Creek. Donald Campbell had a lumber and grain mill on the other branch of the Montague River.
Jacques Cartier’s Stick
Jacques Cartier, the first European to see Prince Edward Island, had decided it was time to move on and explore other places. Throughout his visit to the Island he had seen the birch bark canoes and shadows of the Micmacs, but had never been able to meet any face-to-face. As soon as they saw Cartier and his men, they would flee into the woods, as if some prophesy had told them to stay away from these strange white men.
As Cartier’s ship rounded the shore, he saw one of those elusive men waving frantically at them to return. He called the ship to go into the land so to see what the man wanted. When they approached, however, the Micmac ran away as all the others had before. In order to establish some sort of link in case he might return to the pretty island, Cartier placed a stick in the ground with a woollen scarf and knife. These strange objects became absorbed into the Micmac legend, which would not tell of another encounter with a white man for many years.
The Lower Montague Road
The Lower Montague road can be a lonely place these days, and one can imagine how dark and desolate it was back in the time of the early settlers. Legend has it that a man died violently on that road, though who he was and how he died remains unknown. Regardless, many a person who journeyed upon the road saw the unhappy spirit of the murdered man. Today’s travellers, like those who have gone before them, might still be able to see the ghost of this man as he follows the road that led to his death.
The Mysterious Light
Two well-known women of the community – at least one of whom had a very reputable character – were on their way home one afternoon after a pleasant day in Montague River. Suddenly, they saw a strange light coming from a neighbour’s home. Now, lights in windows are not normally strange, but this was in broad daylight, so the women thought it a bit peculiar. Even more fantastic was the fact that the light moved from the window, reached the roadway, and proceeded down the road toward the Brundenell cemetery. The reason for the light, became apparent to the women a few weeks on, as a child fell ill and died in the very same house. The funeral procession for the poor little one followed the same path as the strange light had.
The Headless Man
Back when Montague’s first mills were being built, two men were on their way home from a trip to Charlottetown. As they passed by a saw-mill in their bumpy cart, they heard an unearthly scream coming from the tail of their vehicle. Terrified, they slowly turned around to see a truly horrible vision: a headless man standing right behind them. The two men fled. A few days later, the town was aghast when a local man was decapitated by a rotary saw at that very same mill.
Witches in Montague
In the old days, before all the pasture land on the Island was fenced in, farmers used to let their livestock out in the woodlands to pasture. Farmers would have to gather their herds at day’s end. One evening, a local man was bringing his slow-moving group of cows home when he noticed that one had developed a large, strange lump on her side. Believing it to be witchcraft, he decided to fight magic with magic and sent two family members to the nearest stream with a pail containing a silver dollar. Not saying a word, for fear of breaking the spell, they reached the stream, filled their pail and returned home where they gave the charmed water to the cow to ward off the evil witchcraft. The legend never tells us, however, if they were successful.
The Circus Comes to Town
At the end of the nineteenth century, the circus made frequent visits to the Montague area. It was a very popular event, thanks in part to the wild animals on display in cages. During one of the circus’s visits, though, a tiger escaped. This terrifying predator headed up the Queen’s Road, where it entered a building belonging to Donald Nicholson – but the tiger had met his match in Montague, for Nicholson proceeded to kill it with a pitchfork. While the humanity of his act might be a bit doubtful, Donald Nicholson became a hero overnight; the circus grew in popularity, too, albeit with tighter security.
A Hungry Bear
Donald is apparently a good name for those adept at handling crazed animals. Years before Mr. Nicholson’s adventures, a Donald Campbell of Lot 59 awoke to the desperate bleating of one of his calves. He immediately got dressed and ran through the dark to aid his suffering animal. When he arrived at the shed he saw the poor creature lying in the shadows of the doorway and reached down to see what the matter was. It was not his little calf that he grasped, though, but a ravenous black bear who had been feeding on the calf in question. The angry animal reared up, knocking the terrified man onto the ground. Campbell struggled to his feet, but the powerful animal struck him down again with his forepaw. When he tried to stand again, the bear pinned him down and sank its sharp teeth into Campbell’s skull. The only thing that could have saved Donald at that moment was a miracle – and that miracle appeared in the form of his wife wielding a birch bark torch. Campbell made the story into legend by retelling the story to those who would listen, pointing out his scarred, disfigured scalp.
The infamous Captain Kidd is famous throughout the Maritime provinces, but there is reason to believe he might have stowed some of his glorious treasure in a little known corner of southern King’s County. A certain Benton Woods, who lived beside the Brudenell River told of his encounter with the powerful pirate to anyone who would listen… “I kept hidden behind a large tree the day that Capt. Kidd and some 20 of his pirates came ashore with a couple of large seamen chests and buried them right under me nose, so to speak.”
Excited by the possibility of riches, Woods built himself a boat and went one night to lift the treasure. Unfortunately, one thing hampered his little escapade. That thing, was the ghost of our old friend Captain Kidd. Wood, obviously not picking up on the pirate clothes worn by the apparition, thought the figure at the pit was one of his neighbours who had beat him to the treasure.
Kidd’s ghost convinced him otherwise. Wood finally took a close look and realized that unless his neighbour had suddenly developed some unusual tastes, this man standing in a skipper’s uniform with a lengthy cutlass at his side had to be the one and only Mr. Kidd. He was more than slightly perturbed that Benton Woods had come to take his treasure and informed him that he was too late. Kidd filled up the pit, uttered a terrible oath, flung his shovel to one side and disappeared into the woods. Upon inspection of the shovel, Woods discovered that it has a lovely gold replica of the Jolly Roger on its underside. Not quite the treasure he was looking for, but a nice find just the same, which would make many reappearances in the countless retellings of this tale.
PO Box 546
24 Queens Road, Montague
Prince Edward Island C0A 1R0
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